Blubber Girl

o-FAT-SHAME-facebookIn third grade one of my schoolmates, who I'll call Nancy, used to call me Blubber Girl. And I believed her. I felt massive, like a whale, a huge blubbery whale. Eventually, the teacher intervened.

“How do you think Jenny feels when you say that,  Nancy?”

“I dunno.”

“Jenny, how do you feel?”

I want to die. Send me off to my death with a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

“Um,” I said, trying not to cry, “It hurts my feelings.”

That was my first experience with public fat shaming. But it was not my last. Notice I said  public. My family, who watched every morsel that passed my lips, had already shamed me at home.

Let me say this now.  I was not fat.  I was chubby. I wasn’t lean, but  I was not obese. This was a different time, before the obesity epidemic. Any kid who wasn’t lanky was noticed. My parents didn’t mean to screw me up. But between them and Glamour magazine, I was a goner.  help scale

I was always worried about my weight. An undercurrent was there, a constant nagging, despite the occasional moments of feeling good about myself: You're fat. You're bad.  But I was never fat.  I was always bigger than the skinny girls,  but I was never fat.  And I was never bad.

Eventually, I developed a full-blown eating disorder. I snuck food and binged. My mother hid food from me. I dieted obsessively, exercised chronically, and the destructive cycle began. One summer in high school, I went on a diet and I got skinny. I had never felt sexy before, and it was exhilarating.  I was on the beach in a white bikini. I was hot. I felt this guy watching me. He was hot. I went in the water, he followed.   I had never been “that girl.” Of course, it was because of my body, right? Yes, maybe a little, but I also think it was my confidence. I felt good when I felt skinny.

But the die had been cast. I went to college and panicked about the “freshman fifteen,” so I lost weight. I exercised so much I got debilitating shin splints. Sophomore year, I made up it by eating, a lot, then dieting. Junior year I lived in Italy, where I gained weight and sometimes dieted. I had a hot Italian boyfriend and was happy. Senior year, I sometimes dieted, sometimes not. Up and down. One saving grace was that I loved sports. I ran, albeit to lose weight, but I also swam and played soccer. I am convinced that if I had been left alone, I’d have developed a healthy body image and a normal size for  my  bones.

DietAnd here’s when the metamorphosis took place. It was not when I lost those pesky five pounds. It was when I got sick of the roller coaster, sick of the mean girl inside my head. I learned about eating disorders and dieting. I saw the connection. Decades of dieting had ruined my self-esteem and created my dysfunctional eating.

Our bodies know when they are hungry and when they are full. I started listening to my body. I stopped eating enormous portions out of fear of future deprivation. I also stopped depriving myself, so there was nothing to be afraid of. When I was full, I stopped eating. I began to enjoy food rather than fear it.

I stopped treating myself in that mean way I’d  never  treat a friend. I stopped thinking "you look fat."  I stopped equating my looks with my self-worth. I'm me, and nothing can change that. I’ve been me since that mean girl called me names back in third grade. I’ve done a lot in my life: been in a rock band, gone to graduate school, gotten married, made two babies, done stand-up comedy, written a novel. None of these have to do with body size. Not one.

I’m the right size for me. And the big secret is, so are you.

Jenny Kanevsky lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, two sons, three cats and one lizard. Read more from Jenny at her blog In Other Words.